Pot user keeps his subsidy

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By David Giuliani

By David Giuliani
Las Vegas resident Robert Jones will keep his housing subsidy after all.

On Wednesday, the San Miguel County Commission voted unanimously to rescind an administrator’s previous decision to end the subsidy for Jones, a licensed medical marijuana user.

Last month, Gilbert Almanza, the then-director of the county housing authority, sent Jones, 70, a letter informing him that he would lose his subsidy Nov. 30 because of his marijuana use.

Almanza issued the directive after receiving an e-mail from the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stating that the agency banned medical marijuana users from federally subsidized housing.

The county housing authority is funded by the federal government.
Jones appealed the decision, so the commission held a hearing Wednesday, giving Jones a chance to present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

Among his witnesses were his landlord, John Burns, who said he had no problem with Jones’ marijuana use.

Jones’ attorney, Jeremy Theoret, pointed to a 1999 memorandum from HUD’s Office of Legal Counsel that allowed medical marijuana use under certain conditions in federally subsidized housing.

Jones, on oxygen and in a wheelchair, told the commission that he would have no choice but to go into a nursing home if he were to lose the subsidy. He said he didn’t want to.

“My case manager wants me to look at nursing homes. You go there to die,” Jones said. “I’d die before I went there.”

In recommending that the county allow Jones to keep the subsidy, County Attorney Jesus Lopez emphasized the importance of the 1999 memo. He said the county would be complying with HUD’s own counsel if it were to side with Jones.

Lopez said fears that San Miguel County would lose all of its funding for the other 170 tenants in the local program were unfounded.
He said if HUD were to revoke all of the county’s funding, that would be unlawful.

“You have adequate legal remedies available,” he said in a speech interrupted by applause twice.

County Manager Les Montoya said the county learned from an Albuquerque HUD official that the county may lose funding for Jones’ subsidy. But he said the official reassured the county that it wouldn’t lose all of its money.

Apologizing to Jones, Montoya said he was the administrator in charge of Almanza, who has since been demoted in county government because of housing authority problems.

Montoya said Almanza hadn’t notified him or the county attorney before sending the letter to Jones.

“The supervisor should have consulted with me. I take responsibility for that,” the manager said.

Commission Chairman David Salazar said he agreed with Jones.
“I don’t think that I would like to see Mr. Jones go to a nursing home,” he said. “He said, ‘If I go there, I’m going there to die.’ I hate to see someone talk that way.”

Commissioner Marcellino Ortiz said Jones wasn’t breaking any laws.
“I learned today that you’re a great person,” the commissioner said.

HUD had been giving conflicting signals about its medical marijuana policy. The agency has been circulating a policy that bars medical marijuana in federally subsidized housing, but a HUD spokeswoman, Donna White, told the Optic recently it was at the discretion of local housing authorities.

One of her colleagues, Brian Sullivan, agreed with her Wednesday.
“These are local decisions made by local housing authorities,” he said.